Conservatives have run out of ideas - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Conservatives have run out of ideas

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Posted: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 3:00 pm

The closing of the conservative mind has been in the making for a long time. It has now morphed into something as surreal as a Salvador Dali painting or an encounter with "Alice in Wonderland's" Mad Hatter.

There's a good reason to be seriously concerned about this.

Blogger and prolific book-writer Bruce Bartlett recently came to the defense of David Frum, who was fired from his job at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.

Bartlett was himself fired by another right-wing think tank, the National Center for Policy Analysis, in 2005 for writing "The Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy." In it he criticized Bush's Medicare policy.

Bartlett is a former Reagan administration domestic policy aide and a deputy assistant Treasury secretary under President George H.W. Bush. He admits losing friends since 2005 and being shunned "by conservative society in Washington, D.C."

Frum was ostensibly fired for criticizing Republican overblown rhetoric and fear mongering over President Barack Obama's health proposal. Bartlett reported Frum had confided that AEI staffers were told not to speak to the media about health care because too many of them agreed with Obama's approach.

This boot on the neck of independent thinkers (at a think tank of all places) illustrates the problem. In turn, the public was denied a chance to hear from reasonable voices.

In a sense that explains Palintology, Brewerism, GunTotingism, No-Free-Lunch-Except-Mine boosterism, Take-the-Money-and-Run Financial Systems, BreakTheBank Investments, PerryTexasSeparatism, and the faux love fest with immigrants -- just legal ones, that is.

All of it is intellectually dishonest, and everyone knows it. But there's no one smart enough left from the right wing to call it what it is.

Orphan intellectuals and illegal immigrants have a lot in common. They are both getting purged in a pogrom that's been taking place for some time now. The difference, however, is that undocumented parents at least might have a rented place with documented kids screaming for them to come home. The conservative intellectuals don't even have that.

The coming apart of the conservative mind is the result of a history with two branches. One side started out analyzing domestic policy from a dispassionate, analytical, even pragmatic point of view. Its core leaders in the '70s and '80s included Harvard professors James Q. Wilson, Daniel Bell, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and other frequent contributors to the scholarly journal "The Public Interest." Its economics were often from followers of the Milton Friedman, University of Chicago persuasion. The RAND Corp. also provided a healthy dose of analytics and pilot programs.

Neoconservatives succeeded because the predecessor technocrats' approaches, which had promised victory in Vietnam, actually led to riots, street protests, anger and a divided nation. Neocon policy ideas were the fountainhead for New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's crime abatement of the 1990s and the revamping that became Bill Clinton's 1996 Welfare Reform Act

Another neoconservative branch was polemical, focusing on foreign affairs. After 9/11, it became the chief promoter of George W. Bush's unilateral doctrine of gunpoint persuasion and pre-emptive war in Iraq. A recent book by Damon Linker, "Norman Podhoretz: A Biography," concerns one of its leading exponents.

Today, the domestic side of conservative thinking is virtually as dead as the dodo bird. Left are cliches, fevered emotions and legislative manipulation, things intellectuals don't excel at.

The awe-inspiring intellectual firepower conservatives once had is now like a spent shell in the Iraqi desert.

Whenever a new neocon front is reconstituted, it should have a futurist bent because there is no past to return to. It ought to respond to the liberal/progressive direction that is trying to take us back to the 1990s and points to the '30s from there.

Until then, the current malaise comes from something Bartlett wrote in March concerning the conservative enforcement of a "rigid conformity." He said if "no dissent is allowed,...the conservative brain will slowly shrivel into dementia if it hasn't already."

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail him at For more stories visit

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